Is Paradox Something Good in Christian Doctrine?

Roger E. Olson | 6/24/2019 | Staff
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Is Paradox Something Good in Christian Doctrine?

A friend recently forwarded to me a sermon series announcement. It is about a planned series of sermons by his pastor. The church is a mainline Protestant congregation, the largest congregation in the state, and is quite evangelical and even quasi-charismatic (in style of worship). The “paradoxes” the pastor plans to preach about—as paradoxes—are, among others, the Trinity and the Person of Jesus Christ (his humanity and divinity) and “predestination and free will.” My friend wanted my opinion about this announcement and planned series.

Course - Sermons - Friend - Question - Opportunity

Of course I cannot critique the sermons; they haven’t even been preached yet! I am only using my friend’s question as an opportunity to write here about one of my favorite theological subjects. That is whether or not “paradoxes” in Christian doctrine and theology are something to celebrate (as it seems the sermons will suggest).

What is a paradox? Well, of course, there are dictionary definitions but I am going to bypass them here and state my own understanding of paradox. (Ordinary dictionaries often do not work for philosophical and theological ideas. There are numerous specialized dictionaries for philosophy and theology.) A paradox is two ideas that are both said to be true but that seem to contradict each other. The key term is “seem.” Obviously, if a paradox were a sheer logical contradiction we would not need the word “paradox.”

People - Paradox - Contradiction - Truths - Past

Yet many people do use “paradox” when they mean “contradiction.” I insist on distinguishing them. A real logical contradiction is impossible. Two truths that absolutely logically contradict each other cannot both be true. And I have gone further here, in the past, to argue that a person cannot believe both truths at the same time if they logically contradict each other.

Here is an example of a sheer, logical contradiction: “That geometrical figure...
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